Instant messaging for the Windows entrenched

The live file-sharing capabilities and clear video call quality make Windows Live Messenger stand out.

Previously known as MSN Messenger, Windows Live Messenger is Microsoft's answer to instant messaging. While largely the same as its predecessor, Windows Live Messenger is unique for allowing you to share folders and files locally with fellow users. It also serves up the usual animated emoticons, winks, and buzzes, along with multiplayer gaming, free PC-to-PC calling, mobile phone messaging, and video chatting. Plus it adds VoIP capabilities that let you call telephones around the world for a fee. Its one major omission, though, is it lacks the capability to receive inbound calls from landlines or cell phones, a service that competitor Yahoo Messenger with Voice offers.

Once installed, Windows Live Messenger displays a drop-down menu of features along the top, contacts within the center pane, a search box on the bottom, and tabs for eBay, Rhapsody, and other services along the left. Microsoft fans will like the integration with MSN Spaces and the company's other properties. Also a plus is that Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Live Messenger now let you directly connect with buddies who use either tool. To do so in the past, you'd have to use a tool such as Trillian.

We like Windows Live Messenger's Sharing Folders feature, which lets you to transfer files to and from your buddy's computer by displaying a mirror of each others' files on your desktops. The service can also store hundreds of contacts, and with a Webcam installed, you can make video chats with a full 640x480-pixel screen. In fact, we recommend Windows Live Messenger's video chat over that of other IM tools. Anyone who is entrenched within the Microsoft world will probably be best served by this particular IM client.

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